With its winding dirt
roads, centuries-old live oaks, draping Spanish moss, and impressive statuary, Bonaventure Cemetery looks like a scene from
a movie - and indeed, it is. This is the cemetery where scenes in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil were
filmed - the movie based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Berendt.
But, there is more here than meets the eye of
the novel-buying or film-viewing public. The history of Bonaventure Cemetery begins with the merging of two
early and prominent Savannah families, the Mullrynes and the Tattnalls. From the Savannah
Morning News, October 1997:
"In 1771, John Mullryne and his son-in-law, Josiah
Tattnall, owned approximately 9,920 acres of Georgia land, stretching from Ebenezer southward to Sunbury. Included in these
property holdings were 600 acres just three miles from Savannah on St. Augustine Creek. The site became the family home and
was given the name Bonaventure, which means "Good Fortune." A small family cemetery was eventually established on the property.
John Mullryne's and Josiah Tattnall's "Good Fortune"
took a turn for the worse with the approach and onset of the American Revolutionary War. Both men openly declared their loyalties
to England and to George III. This resulted in an order for their arrest and banishment forever from Georgia. Mullryne and
Tatnall, along with other "traitors," were given 60 days to leave the colony, or they would be arrested and "transported to
Britain." Apparently, the Mullrynes and Tattnalls did not leave Georgia until Savannah was liberated from the British in 1782.
Bonaventure plantation was used as a hospital for
French troops during Count Charles d'Estaing's bloody and unsuccessful attempt to seize Savannah from the British in the "Siege
of Savannah" on Oct. 9, 1779. It is suspected that many of these French troops may be buried at Bonaventure. It was from this
location that the defeated French army and their allies departed.
Josiah Tattnall, Jr. purchased the Bonaventure property
from its then owner, John Habersham, in 1788, thereby returning the property to the family.
On March 10, 1846, the last son to own Bonaventure Plantation,
Commodore Josiah Tattnall III, sold 600 acres to Peter Wiltberger, a prominent Savannah businessman. Seventy acres of the
Bonaventure tract were set aside as a public burial ground. The Tattnall family burial plot was outside this area, but Wiltberger
promised to maintain it. When Peter Wiltberger died he was buried at Bonaventure.
Peter's son, Maj. William H. Wiltberger, started a business
venture called the Evergreen Cemetery Company in 1868. According to bylaws adopted by the stockholders, cemetery lots were
sold for 12.5 cents per square foot.
Evergreen Cemetery was purchased by the City of Savannah
in 1907 and became Bonaventure Cemetery.
Throughout this century, Bonaventure Cemetery, like
Savannah's other historic burial grounds, has been a draw for visitors. Persons strolling through its grounds will encounter
the final resting places of well-known poet Conrad Aiken; Noble Jones, who arrived with Oglethorpe in 1733 and became owner
of Wormsloe Plantation; and, of course, one of the most popular lyricists of the 20th century, Johnny Mercer.